As we reflect on the challenges faced by the peacebuilding community in 2021, the war in May stands out as a defining moment for the year. On May 20, after 11 days of death, destruction, and violence, a cease-fire agreement was reached. What made this round different to many which had preceded it was the escalating intercommunal violence, with shared spaces and communities still reeling from those terrible events, as we discussed in our Groundwork podcast mini-series that followed May’s violence.
According to a 2021 study by ALLMEP and the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), youth attitudes among Israelis and Palestinians ages 15-21 are in an alarming position. Majorities in both groups reject the other’s historic or national connection to the land, and regard the possibility of a Palestinian state as low or unlikely in the foreseeable future. Trends also indicate that young Israelis and Palestinians are taking increasingly hardline stances on both sides of the conflict. The status quo, particularly among young people, is troubling, and perhaps even more so in light of the violence in May.
However the poll also suggested that majorities of young people might be willing to participate in the sort of joint projects that could disrupt these trends. In the midst of the May war, thousands of participants and activists in such projects rose to reject a status quo defined by violence and mistrust. Instead, they proposed an alternative reality, where this status quo is met with blunt refusal. They gathered in demonstration, united against violence and standing together for peace, and their work did not end there.
In the months following the conflict and ceasefire, ALLMEP members held youth-focused activities, camps, and dialogue groups that brought together thousands of young people who were wrestling with the realities of life after the war. For many, these activities provided the only outlet for them to air grievances, engage in dialogue, or have any contact with someone on the other side.
According to our internal reporting, youth engagement over this difficult summer exceeded 1500 participants across over 25 different youth activities. Activities ranged from single-day dialogues to 6-week summer camps. While the majority of these activities focused on ages 12-18, ALLMEP was thrilled to see that several groups extended their activities to children as young as 5 years old, supporting friendships and perspectives that will hopefully carry long into adulthood.
11-year-old Gali, for example, a participant in a summer camp hosted by Leo Beack in Haifa, explained, “I think because of this summer camp, I believe that Arabs and Jews can have better relations than they do now.”
Or Naglaa, a 17-year-old participant in MECI’s 6-week summer program, who said, “We want to tell the world that we love peace, and when we grow up we will be distinguished leaders and we will work for peace everywhere.”
An emerging generation of Palestinians and Israelis are facing immense obstacles to peace. Their attitudes and perceptions of the other side are ever-evolving, influenced by outbreaks of violence, intercommunal conflict, and a dire socio-political atmosphere in which they have had little say or hand in shaping.
These continued youth activities have the potential to shape a different type of future. This same youth study showed that minority positions, 30% of Israelis and 29% of Palestinians, view cross-border peacebuilding activities as illegitimate. And, while there is hesitancy to participate in joint activities, there remains the opportunity for authentic engagement between the two sides. Only 22% of Israelis and 30% of Palestinians reported either current or past participation in these joint activities, alluding to a troubling lack of exposure.
Imagine if these same peacebuilding groups could take their activities to scale. Instead of 1500 youth across 25 different activities, what if it were 10,000 youth across 200? This is our vision for the future, a more just and peaceful reality for everyone living in Palestine and Israel.
The full youth report from ALLMEP and USIP will be released early in 2022, but you can view a video discussion on its highlights here.
ALLMEP members hosting youth activities in the Summer 2021:
Jerusalem Youth Chorus
Tennis for All – Freddie Krivine Initiative
Hands of Peace
EcoPeace Middle East
Givat Haviva and Heart to Heart